Thursday, 2 August 2012

How ithers see us?

Can you lift your own body weight? No? Then what you lookin' at?

There are so many ways to comment on how we see other people. The 24 hour news cycle, Twitter [catch me @JCJudson...], Facebook, comment sections on newspaper sites. Tom Daley can be trolled by someone who does not know him making judgements about what Tom's dead father would think of his Olympic performance. Frankie Boyle can make jokes about Rebecca Addlington. Karl Lagerfeld can comment in Grazia about Pippa Middleton's face in, if it was possible, an even more abusive way than he commented on Adele.

No-one should be commented on in this way - but it seems even being a Grammy winning multi-millionaire singer or Olympic medalist is not achievement enough to give the haters pause for thought. There are a lot of people out there who have lost any perspective on what is appropriate to comment on and what is not. I think it goes beyond that though. People occasionally overstep the mark - down the pub, a few beers with friends, and some ribald jokes may be told. The comments made about people - famous or not - that I am focusing on though usually also betray a hatred born out of sexism, racism and a sense of massive entitlement that an individual can judge without being challenged themselves.

Gabby Douglas is a 16 year old Amercian, Olympic Gold medal winner. I am in awe. But apparently, to some, what matters is her hair. I am sure as she competed her main worry was whether her hair would go a bit curly and not stay ramrod straight due to a bit of sweating [how unlady-like].

The comments on her hair demonstrate a multi-layered approach to taking someone down. She is female - and we all know that society demands that girls be pretty and their hair be straight, long and shiny. As female tennis players and Zoe Smith know, ladies need to be looking feminine and sweetly pretty. We know that society considers straight, 'polished' hair to be professional and pretty. Not hair pulled back in order to compete at THE OLYMPICS.

This is also a lot more achievable if you are white [still a slog though - as my own battles with naturally curly hair attest]. She is black - so her hair not only doesn't fit the stereotype of acceptable femininity it is also up for comment in relation to whether she should go natural, have a weave, or straighten adding a nice dose of racism to the mix. The still-prevalent attitude that you can touch a person's hair if they are black without asking and ask down right impertinent questions about it astonishes me. Jezebel helpfully collates some of the worst comments and best retorts - yet manages to miss mentioning what Gabby won the medal for.

Sometimes people comment on other people and it isn't just their appearance they have a shot at. There are the trolls who think feeding a baby in public is unacceptable. I mean, breasts on show and it is not for the enjoyment of men? Or to objectify women through an advert or Page 3? Breast is best but only when other people define that for you - and we would rather babies cried out in hunger or were fed in toilets. Then there are the people who comment on you as though you are not there. If you have a visible disability then you are likely to have experienced this. And if you have a condition that requires management outside other people's 'normal' you will also face this.

I work for Diabetes UK and so this one is close to my heart. If you have Type 1 diabetes you need to inject insulin in order to stay alive. You don't have a choice and it can be tough knowing you have to inject several times a day. Sometimes people with diabetes inject - shock, horror - outwith their homes. In cafes, or at work, or hanging out in the park. Now, the first time someone sees this they may be - understandably - curious. Most people with diabetes don't mind a polite question or two and are used to that. However, it seems some would rather people with diabetes risked their health and possibly their life itself to avoid their own discomfort at the use of an insulin pen. Do people feel the same way about asthma inhalers?

The shocking thing is that sometimes it isn't even excusable through lack of knowledge. This week an avowed expert and healthcare professional who 'understands' diabetes and what someone with diabetes needs to do to manage their condition, made some very cruel, unthinking and unfortunate comments about people taking their insulin in public.

Jackson failing to make the link between insulin, food intake and the right to take life saving medication [screenshot nicked from 'the bad diabetic' aka @type1teenager]

Jackson thought it was rude,offensive and should not happen in public. That instead the person with diabetes should hide themselves away in a toilet to take their medication. Well, I am not speechless, I am horrified. Never mind, though, how horrified I am. I don't have diabetes and I don't need to inject every day to stay alive. Hannah [@type1teenager] does though and she explains eloquently and with strength what this means to her.

On a positive note - the new Scottish-set Pixar movie, Brave, has inspired a celebration of another phenomenon that often comes in for a lot of stick - red hair is the feature of a flash mob - to celebrate the opening of the film and as someone who has red locks [albeit delivered by the skill of my hairdresser] that enjoy being in their naturally curly state - I heartily approve.

Merida stole my hair and did it better - she also apparently stole the Diabetes UK Scotland we get bows and arrows too?

Everyone has foot-in-mouth syndrome at times. I hold my hands up to asking those daft lassie questions that in hindsight were less than sensitive. But there is a fundamental difference between genuine curiosity delivered with clumsy good intentions and the vitriol that seems to be on display in such high volume. A misjudged comment in the pub is not the same as a comment designed to harm and projected to the widest audience possible through the media channels now at our disposal. Winning an Olympic medal is awesome - it is an achievement I can't really even understand because the skill, dedication and strength is beyond my ken. But no medal is big enough to shield from hatred. That is everyone's job - and the chance to do it is not every four years. The chance is there every day and everywhere we find it.